Malaise

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: Aug 04, 2010 12:01 AM
Malaise

With apologies to Don Draper

Tie knotted, hair combed, middle button on blazer buttoned. Check. Briefcase in hand, wallet in breast pocket, car keys in hand. Check. Then out through the revolving door and into the fading light, a face prepared to meet the other faces.

It would take a little longer for the practiced smile to fade after that presentation to the investors today. At least he hoped they were investors, not just lookers. He'd put a lot of work into that smile -- confident and friendly, but not cocky or familiar. Moderation in all things, that was the ticket.

The firm was counting on getting this project. Lord knows it needed the business. He figured he'd done all right. Once you'd learned to fake sincerity, a classmate once told him, you had it made. He wondered what ever happened to old Tubby. No doubt he'd done well. He wasn't doing all that bad himself -- if he didn't think too much about it. Introspection is bad for the digestion. He reached for the package of Tums he always carried now.

He was already so tired of this dumb century, and it had only started. Not that he missed the last one, God knows. War and revolution, Depression and disaster. Full of sound and fury. It did have drama. He'd say that much for it. There had been some real choices: Good vs. Evil. Life vs. Death. Art Deco vs. International.

This century seemed out to muddy all distinctions. Deconstruct everything in sight. Till it all was just one meaningless smear. Or one parody of reality after another. The trouble with shock value as a staple is that it soon loses its shock value. If everything is acceptable, nothing matters. Why should it? In the ever-bright future, we're all going to be the same anyway -- happy as clams, and about as mindful.

Is there anything sadder than that yellowing light at the end of a day spent faking it? Well, at least the clients seemed pleased with the two designs. They could take their choice of the same emptiness in two entirely different packages. He was kind of proud of that day's work. He thought of himself as a magician, able to convert a client's dreams into prefab reality, visions of country estates into suburban sprawl.

Each of his designs looked, if only looked, unique -- carefully crafted, the product of painstaking months finished just on deadline, as if they were mod masterpieces. He'd unveiled both with that little twist of his wrist he'd practiced in front of the mirror for a week. He still had his backhand even if he'd given up tennis years ago.

It had been a lot harder to perfect that twist than turn out the computer graphics. These days you could run them off almost automatically, each with some individualized little detail. Hell, he could make that thing play Home Sweet Home if he wanted to. Nothing like mass-produced individuality; the market demanded it, without exception.

He knew how sour he sounded. Lord, he needed a drink. Even before he got home. He wouldn't need a twist of lemon in the martini; he could just dip his little finger in the glass. Maybe he'd stop at Jacques'. But the thought of that chrome bar--or was it stainless steel? -- only further depressed him. Not a scratch on it. Blank and shiny as his unwrinkled suit.

No, he'd stop at Mulligan's. Nothing like real wood. At least he hoped it was real. Surely they'd have Jameson's. He couldn't stand the thought of another dry-red-wine-of-the-month out of a carton in the back.

God, he was down. He kept seeing remedies for depression on the tube. He was all for them. Anything that would help. Only his case wasn't clinical. He was depressed because things were depressing. Because he'd just designed two buildings, if you could call them that, completely different in appearance and completely equal in their falsity, one blank as a moron's face, the other an homage to Frank Gehry. He thought he'd captured the spirit of the master: all kinds of twisted surfaces and exposed plumbing to match. Like a botched abdominal operation. You pays your outlandish price and takes your fraudulent choice.

Versatility, that was the name of the game. He knew he could play it by how sick he felt at the end of the day, as if his reading glasses weren't on quite straight. Was there such a thing as queasy vision? Somebody at a cocktail party -- another indecent Concept -- was saying ours is a post-literate society. He didn't know about that, but it was definitely a post-visual society. How else could we bear to look at it?

He couldn't remember the last time he'd been to church. He'd told the old man he was still looking for a Church Home. And the old boy, proper deacon that he was back in Archer City, had believed him. Or rather pretended to. Which was much better. He couldn't bear to think of deceiving the old man. Mutual pretense was much preferable. For both. They had an unspoken deal, a gentleman's agreement. He pretended to believe and the old man pretended to believe him. Very businesslike. Adult. God, he was down.

The drink was a bad idea. He just needed some sleep. If he could just get home and get to sleep. Instead of thinking. Thinking ruined everything.

Tomorrow is another day. --O'Hara, Scarlett. That was it. He'd get up early and sit down at the drawing board while the light was still bright and fresh and unmarred as an empty canvas. Before it yellowed and stained. Before all the people got up and ruined the world. He'd work on something of his own. Some idea not for sale. Not for sale to anybody. Especially to himself.